Ralph Nader: The Incredible Vacuousness of the Race for the Republican Presidential Nomination

The mainstream media is complicit in the circusization of the Republican debates.

Ralph Nader

Donald Trump and Jeb Bush at the most recent Republican presidential nominee debate. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

The mass media, with usu­al excep­tions, have allowed them­selves to be pulled down to the lev­el of the polit­i­cal cir­cus. If the Repub­li­can Party’s ear­ly pri­ma­ry cam­paigns for the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion had an ele­phant and a clown car, Rin­gling Broth­ers would be in trou­ble. It is hard for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to resist temp­ta­tion, defined by hyp­ing an enter­tain­ment cir­cus led by the chief cir­cus bark­er — Don­ald Trump of gam­bling casi­no fame.

When voters decide they will no longer be mistreated and summon candidates to their own citizen-powered debates, the dynamics behind the campaigns will shift toward the citizenry.

Six­teen can­di­dates, after inex­plic­a­bly exclud­ing Mark Ever­son, the for­mer IRS com­mis­sion­er under George W. Bush and the first to announce, are hurl­ing epi­thets, war-mon­ger­ing brava­dos, and assort­ed boasts against one anoth­er. After their so-called debates, the media empha­size the insults of Trump and oth­ers against one-anoth­er. Read­ing the cov­er­age and watch­ing the TV clips, once comes away with the impres­sion that snarls, quips, ripostes, and gaffes, now pass for news.

How ran­cid! How demean­ing to our coun­try and its peo­ple! It is bad enough that vot­ers have been reduced to spec­ta­tors watch­ing a real­i­ty show with the can­di­dates, bid­ding to become the most pow­er­ful per­son on Earth, with a fin­ger on the but­ton. It is bad enough that the ever-hov­er­ing Super PACs and their inden­tured can­di­dates, save occa­sion­al­ly Rand Paul and John Kasich, don’t seem to want to be seri­ous, knowl­edge­able, or at all com­pas­sion­ate toward the pow­er­less and deprived.

This pot­pour­ri of poseurs made it pos­si­ble for Car­ly Fio­r­i­na to rise to the top tier” on the basis of a few state­ments that exude the feigned con­fi­dence of the failed cor­po­rate CEO she once was. The roman can­dle” moment that had the polit­i­cal pun­dits call her the debate win­ner last week was her response to Don­ald Trump ques­tion­ing that face” becom­ing pres­i­dent. She calm­ly respond­ed: Women all over this coun­try heard very clear­ly what Mr. Trump said,” just before he exer­cised his usu­al recov­ery ploy and exclaimed she’s got a beau­ti­ful face and she’s a beau­ti­ful woman.” Will Rogers or Jon Stew­art would have had a field day with that exchange.

Cul­pa­ble as these can­di­dates are, with vary­ing degrees, in debas­ing the most fun­da­men­tal elec­toral expres­sions of the peo­ple – the del­e­ga­tion of their sov­er­eign­ty and pow­er to elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives – the media accen­tu­at­ed the dis­mal triv­ia with ques­tions that matched the vac­u­ous­ness of the format.

The only busi­ness pro­tect­ed from gov­ern­ment by our Con­sti­tu­tion is the media — their right of free speech based in the First Amend­ment. Just look how the media are han­dling this pub­lic trust! As Jamie Lar­son, a reporter for the web­site Rur­al Intel­li­gence, said: The media ask ques­tions about what can­di­dates are say­ing but are not ask­ing the ques­tions they inde­pen­dent­ly should be asking.”

Such as, I would sug­gest: What is your record and posi­tion on cor­po­rate crime enforce­ment and what would you change so as to pun­ish and pre­vent cor­po­rate crim­i­nal­i­ty?” Or Peo­ple every­where feel pow­er­less toward gov­ern­ment and busi­ness; half do not even vote. How would you specif­i­cal­ly shift pow­er from the few to the many so that the cit­i­zens can have more real choic­es of can­di­dates and bet­ter con­trol the abus­es of elec­toral pol­i­tics, gov­ern­ment, and big busi­ness?” And Have you ever sup­port­ed spe­cif­ic empow­er­ment strate­gies for the peo­ple?” Or How would you increase vot­er turnout – say by hav­ing a vot­ing hol­i­day, more days for absen­tee vot­ing, enact­ing a none-of-the-above option for vot­ers, reduc­ing or elim­i­nat­ing bur­den­some and mean­ing­less vot­er reg­is­tra­tion rules?”

When vot­ers decide they will no longer be mis­treat­ed and sum­mon can­di­dates to their own cit­i­zen-pow­ered debates, the dynam­ics behind the cam­paigns will shift toward the citizenry.

It would not take more than 500,000 peo­ple con­nect­ing with each oth­er to make all this hap­pen. There are about 150 mil­lion reg­is­teredvot­ers The media can indi­rect­ly cre­ate the cli­mate for this civic engage­ment and shape of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign as befits a delib­er­a­tive, demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety that is seri­ous about its future and its children.

First, how­ev­er, the press, TV, and radio have to reduce their end­less appetite for focus­ing on polit­i­cal gos­sip, tac­tics, and who has raised more money.

And, the media have to have a high­er esti­mate of their own sig­nif­i­cance. What say you, pub­lish­ers, edi­tors and reporters? It’s your coun­try too!

Ralph Nad­er is an attor­ney, author and con­sumer advo­cate. His most recent book — and first nov­el — is iOn­ly The Super-Rich Can Save Us. His most recent work of non­fic­tion is The Sev­en­teen Tra­di­tions. He has been a U.S. pres­i­den­tial can­di­date four times, most recent­ly as an inde­pen­dent can­di­date in 2008.
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